Deep in the heart of Texas, two women were dissatisfied with a design scene they felt was years behind New York and Los Angeles. So Mili Suleman, founder and designer of Dallas-based KUFRI, a textile and home goods brand that champions the art of hand-loomed weaving, and Holly Hickey Moore of HHM Interior Design, set out to remake their operating theater by co-founding SHIFT.
A monthly business forum that brings together members of the design community in Dallas, SHIFT aims to create connections and a sense of energy and to challenge the status quo. The group was birthed on a flight from LA home to Dallas, when Suleman and Moore became seatmates following their individual trips to the annual Legends event in the La Cienega Design Quarter (LCDQ). It was a regular pilgrimage for Suleman.
“Legends is all about the showrooms,” she recounts. “The best designers come to town, there are panels and parties, and it’s got a lot of financial backing and power behind it. We were both high on the energy we had just experienced, and with such a large influx of people moving to Dallas from California and New York, we wondered why Dallas was still so traditional, and why it couldn’t be accepting of other types of design. We knew the talent was here.”
“We started out doing what we called Mastermind Groups,” Moore relates. “These were formal, planned talks centered around a business issue we were having, and then our second meeting focused on social media.” Another brought in the editor of PaperCity Magazine for a roundtable discussion on how to pitch stories and approach editors. A holiday gathering will center around the food and culture of Puerto Rico and a local chef specializing in same, with the talk (naturally) focused on hospitality and restaurant design, because as Suleman says, “Design is so influenced by culture, and we’re looking for an unabashed, authentic take on it.”
Nearly two years since its launch, SHIFT and its regulars, which include designers, architects, photographers and more now informally known as “SHIFTERS,” are thriving. “We make it a point to keep the meetings small (the norm is 12 people, but there have been as many as 15 in a group), so that everyone with questions has a chance to talk.”
Someone hosts a meeting each month in their home after the workday, and there are always a set of objectives for the intimate gatherings. Each fosters the kind of trust and camaraderie “that you wouldn’t necessarily get if you went to an IIDA or ASID meeting, one of the more formalized organizations that you have to pay membership to join,” Moore says.
Notes architect Harris Briggs of Dallas-based William S. Briggs, “As a professional I am interested in accommodating and positively contributing to the human condition. SHIFT helps me achieve this by exploring others’ perspectives and how they achieve their goals. There’s a fantastic Dead Poet’s Society feeling to it. People are there because they want to be there, and they feed off of each other’s passion. They’re not there to fulfill some committee hours or requirements.”
Briggs became a SHIFTER after meeting Moore at a networking event for Luxe magazine. “The first time I came I was a little timid, but it was awesome, and I wanted to keep coming back. It was great to be able to talk to peers about our issues and the industry and to ask for advice. It was really enlightening. You learn confidence in yourself and you hear about other parts of the industry that you’re not exposed to, like sourcing, purchasing, shipping and dealing with clients on the interior design side. As architects, we’d love to have design in-house someday, and I’m learning from people who are doing it every day.”
On the whole, SHIFT is drawing younger, up-and-coming professionals in their 30s. “Harris is a perfect example,” Moore describes. “His firm, founded by his father, has been in Dallas a really long time. Another regular is Robinson Pittet, whose father owns Pittet Architecturals, which imports antique and vintage architectural and decorative artifacts. “Like Harris, Robinson is going to take over the company someday. We’re the same age, so the hope is that we’re all going to grow together and support each other in our businesses for the next 30-plus years, and one day we’ll be the old guard of Dallas.”
“I think I was looking for my tribe and I felt like it didn’t exist in Dallas,” Suleman says, adding that prior to SHIFT, she focused all of her marketing on the East and West Coasts. “I had really credible showrooms representing our line — Harbinger out of LA and ALT for Living in NY, and Y&Co in Canada — so my line was doing great everywhere else, but I was rejected by a few showrooms here in Dallas. My line is more about texture. It’s a little more subdued and it’s not mainstream Dallas. Through the SHIFT group, I’ve found my tribe and it’s fed my soul and definitely increased my leadership skills. It’s becoming a really interesting and fun group, and everyone is challenging everyone else and encouraging everyone else.”
Indeed, Moore says the most important thing others can learn from the SHIFT model is that “everybody needs a group or a mentor of some sort that they can really trust and rely on, and it has to be within their local community, because you learn who bought what, who is moving away, who is closing their business, who is opening up. You can’t run a business alone without any help. I believe in karma, and if you hold everything to yourself, and you don’t share, it’s going to come back to you. There are plenty of projects out there. Even if the market gets tight, there are only certain projects that fit your brand and your personality.”